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Rick Mast remembers thrill of earning first Brickyard 400 pole as if it was yesterday

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It’s trivia time:

Most of us know Jeff Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994.

But who won the pole for that race?

Dale Earnhardt? Rusty Wallace? Bill Elliott? Gordon?

Nope.

The answer: Rick Mast.

The Brickyard pole was one of only four poles the Rockbridge Baths, Virginia native claimed in his 15-year, 364-race NASCAR Cup career.

And even though he’s been retired from racing for the last 15 years, Mast forever will be known as the driver to take the field to green in NASCAR’s first foray at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Driving the No. 1 Skoal Ford Thunderbird for team owner Richard Jackson, Mast led the first two laps before falling back in the field, eventually finishing 22nd.

Rick Mast won the pole for the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 in the No. 1 Ford.

Qualifying for the pole proved to be almost like a race itself, as 86 cars took part to potentially be a part of NASCAR history and the 43-car field for the Brickyard.

Mast, though, had a secret weapon that played a big part in earning the top spot – four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt.

“I got to know A.J. pretty well because we shared the same sponsor, so I went over and told him what my car was doing and he kind of told me what to expect,” Mast said in a media release. “We made some minor adjustments, and when I made the qualifying lap the car was on a rail. It just stuck.”

Mast qualified early in the first half of the session with a speed of 172.414 mph.

Then came the waiting game as the remainder of the 86 cars gave the pole their best efforts.

“Everybody prepared,” Mast said. “I never saw the total garage area prepare so long for one single lap.

“It used to be that Daytona was a big deal. You’d go down there testing all the time in the winter preparing for that qualifying lap, but it seemed Indy was like that times 10 for two years.”

Even after his qualifying run, Mast still replayed it over and over in his head, making mental check-off notes that he did everything he could to get as much speed out of his race car.

“There are so many unknowns to that place,” Mast said. “You knew the track would change so much and the time we went out wasn’t the best time of the day, but I had no clue if it was going to hold up.

“I remember thinking maybe halfway through the qualifying session when nobody was really coming close to our speed that we might have a shot at it, but we knew better than to let ourselves get up too much hope.”

And then came even more waiting.

“It seemed like it took three days to run all those cars,” Mast said. “Richard (Jackson) was torn all to pieces. He couldn’t sit down, he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t talk. He knew what it was all about and what it meant for Skoal and Ford.”

What made Mast’s pole win all the more sweeter for himself, Jackson and the team is they were the new kids on the Ford block for that season and beat out longtime stalwarts that carried the blue oval like Junior Johnson, Robert Yates and Jack Roush. Mast’s team had switched from Oldsmobile to Ford before the 1994 season.

“We were stepping in as a new team in the Ford camp and it was incumbent on me to try to justify Ford’s involvement with us,” Mast said. “I was so wanting to prove ourselves to Ford in some capacity, and when I sat on the pole at Indy it gave me some big satisfaction. It was a very, very big deal in my eyes for Ford to do that and that’s not sugar-coating anything. That’s just the way it was at the time.”

Mast was forced to retire from racing in 2002 after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning that left him confined to a bed for 31 days.

“About three of four years after I retired it started easing up to where now I can breathe it,” Mast said. ”I can be around it and it doesn’t bother me.

“I don’t go into a garage or any confined space or an area that has fumes or stuff like that. I immediately try to get away from it, but at least I can be around it and that’s a lot better than they said it would ever be, so for that I’m very grateful.”

These days, Mast runs his own business, RKM Enviro Clean, which offers cleaning services ranging from hazardous material clean-up to flood recovery services.

But he hasn’t forgotten his racing roots. He still attends races at Richmond and Martinsville when he can.

Mast was reminded in a recent interview that his Brickyard pole wasn’t the only illustrious start of his Cup career.

When asked who sat on the pole for Richard Petty’s last Cup race and Jeff Gordon’s first Cup race, as well as the same race that saw Alan Kulwicki beat Bill Elliott for the championship – all in the 1992 season-ending event – Mast didn’t hesitate.

“You don’t have to guess. You know.”

Yes, it was Mast.

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Stage 1 winner AJ Allmendinger blows engine at Sonoma

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AJ Allmendinger lost the engine on his No. 47 Chevrolet on Lap 33 of Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway, not long after winning Stage 1.

Allmendinger was running in 13th when the engine blew, a result of a bad shift. It is his first DNF at Sonoma.

The JTG Daugherty Racing driver, a favorite to contend in road course races, had started the race in fifth and made it to second before drifting back.

Once the race leaders pitted with four and three laps left in the stage, Allmendinger took the lead.

Allmendinger has started in the top five in the last five Sonoma races and not finished better than 14th.

“I haven’t missed a shift on a road course in 10 years,” Allmendinger told Fox Sports 1. “Just me. I was trying to be so patient, so smooth with it. It was unexpected. It’s on me. I let everybody down here.”

Jamie McMurray also experienced a mechanical issue that caused his engine to shut off and lose oil pressure, ending his day.

 

 

NASCAR community pays tribute to World of Outlaws driver killed in crash

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The NASCAR community paid tribute to World of Outlaws driver Jason Johnson, who died after a sprint car crash Saturday night at Beaver Dam (Wisconsin) Raceway.

Johnson crashed after a restart racing for the lead. Witnesses said that Johnson’s car flipped and went through billboards outside Turn 3, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Johnson won the 2016 Knoxville Nationals. He finished sixth in the points last year in the World of Outlaws.

 

Today’s Cup race at Sonoma: Start time, lineup and more

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There has been a different winner in each of the last nine Cup races at Sonoma Raceway, site of today’s Cup race. Those nine winners have been Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick.

Will there be a 10th different winner at the road course?

Here is all the information for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley will give the command to start engines at 3:01 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:13 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 110 laps (218.9 miles) around the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 25. Stage 2 ends on Lap 50.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 10:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:20 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEMBroadway Under The Stars in Sonoma Valley, Transcendence’s Meggie Cansler will perform the anthem at 2:55 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race beginning at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 80 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kevin Harvick led the final 22 laps to win last year’s race. Clint Bowyer placed second. Brad Keselowski finished third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for full qualification results.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Sonoma

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway.

Nate Ryan

Martin Truex Jr. He probably had the best car at Sonoma last year; his team closes the deal this season.

Dustin Long

Kevin Harvick. No one can stop him on an oval or a road course.

Daniel McFadin

William Byron pulls off a shocking win in his first Cup race at Sonoma.

Dan Beaver

Jamie McMurray seesaws through the field, but gets track position in the closing laps.